Mind Matters — Go Out To See Inside Out

Two clients and one friend in the past week have talked about seeing the movie Inside Out. Usually we (my husband and I) wait for Netflix, but all the talk prompted a trip to the movie theater instead. This Disney-Pixar film captivates older children and adults alike in its story about an eleven year old girl, Riley. She is a happy hockey-playing kid in Minnesota when her family moves to San Francisco, thus disrupting Riley’s life just as she is on the cusp of puberty.

Inside Out delves into the mind of Riley by depicting emotions through various characters. At first Joy, and her positive, “can do” attitude leads the action through tumultuous times. However, it is Sadness whose role is also critical. When Sadness and Joy are lost, deep in the labyrinth of Riley’s mind, the characters Fear, Disgust, and Anger are left at the controls. Havoc ensues, and we see Riley acting out.

What the animation portrays well is how we all have an internal dialog of feelings that interacts with another’s cacophony of feelings. Moms and Dads would do well to consider how their own emotions interact and intertwine with their children’s. There is one scene where Riley is reactive with her parents, one minute displaying Anger, another minute Fear, and another Disgust. Father escalates the turmoil by reacting with his Anger, and mother in turn reacts to father. Seeing this reactivity in Inside Out makes us laugh—but it also gets us to think—about our own emotional reactivity.

In another scene, Sadness sits and listens to a sad story being told by Riley’s imaginary friend. He weeps because Sadness is listening and is being understanding. Because of this, this character finds himself at the other side of his story, feeling some resolution to his grief. Joy, who at first wanted to gloss over his feelings with some “happy” distraction, sees that Sadness has an important role. She is the balance to Joy’s energy. Joy and Sadness are opposite sides of the same coin.

This film wisely did not portray any emotion as “negative.” We need our feelings; they are not to be gotten rid of. In right proportion and integrated, Fear helps us avoid danger; Disgust also keeps us safe—from being poisoned, for example. And Anger can help us recognize injustice.

This movie may help us understand the pre-pubescent kids in our midst, but it also gives lessons about our adult selves.

It’s worth going out to go inside.